Elton John – Honky Chateau – Our Shootout Winner from 2007

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame. 

This British Import Honky Chateau is THE BEST SOUNDING COPY WE’VE EVER HEARD — BY FAR! We just finished a big shootout for this wonderful album, and this copy took top honors with MASTER TAPE SOUND!

This has to be one of the best sounding rock records of all time — certainly worthy of a spot on our Top Rock LPs List. A Hot Stamper copy like this really tells you why. The highs are silky sweet, the vocals are full-bodied and breathy, and the tonal balance is perfection from top to bottom. (more…)

John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme – Better Sound than the Originals?

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

The original Impulse pressings on the brown and orange label are the best, right?

Not in our experience. We think that plays into one of the biggest canards in all of record collecting, that the first pressings are always the best sounding.

For this album, having sampled a large group of pressings from every era, we found the originals to be inferior to the best reissues we played. Naturally the ones we offer here as Hot Stampers will be the best of those reissue pressings. We are not the least bit worried that this vintage Impulse LP won’t beat the pants off of any original as well as any reissue you may have heard. And of course it is guaranteed to be dramatically better sounding than any Heavy Vinyl pressing produced by anyone, anywhere, at any time. (more…)

Graham Nash – Songs for Beginners – Greatest “Copy” Ever

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame.

WHOA! We’ve paired up two FOUR PLUS sides to create this stunning 2-pack with mindblowing Demo Quality sound for the whole album. These A++++ sides will show you just how amazing it can sound: super full-bodied, rich, warm and natural. 

Please note that we award this very special grade so rarely that we don’t even have a graphic to represent it in our sonic grade box. The scale usually only goes to three pluses, but these two sides went up to four!

This is an incredible recording, and on a copy like this the sound is truly stunning. When you hear Chicago here you will not believe how CINEMATIC the sound is! It’s everything we love about ANALOG, and then some.

Most of the credit must go to the team of recording engineers, led here by the esteemed Bill Halverson, the man behind all of the Crosby Stills Nash and Young albums. Nash was clearly influenced by his work with his gifted bandmates, proving with this album that he can hold his own with the best of the best. Some songs (We Can Change The World, Be Yourself) are grandly scaled productions with the kind of studio polish that would make Supertramp envious. For me, a big speaker guy with a penchant for giving the old volume knob an extra click or two, it just doesn’t get any better than this. (more…)

Randy Newman – Little Criminals – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame

TWO STUNNING A+++ SIDES, making this by far the best copy to ever hit our site! We recently finished our second-ever shootout for Little Criminals and it was a blast. We’ve only found out recently just how good the best sounding pressings of Randy Newman’s records can sound, and we were quite pleased with how rich, full and dynamic the Hot Stampers of this album are.

This album features the big hit “Short People” as well as a number of other great songs, including “Baltimore” which, as far as we’re concerned, is one of the best songs Newman ever wrote.

Both sides here absolutely knocked us out — nothing else in our shootout came close! The soundstage is super open and three-dimensional, the vocals and piano are full and present, and there’s absolutely no trace of thinness or edge.

This was Newman’s first commercially successful album and they stamped out a ton of them. The average copy is thin, dry, and stuck in the speakers — what a shame. Play enough of them, though, and eventually you might find a copy like this one, with wonderfully analog rich and full-bodied sound and the kind of presence that carries the music out of the speakers. (more…)

Genesis – Foxtrot – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

After struggling with this album for YEARS, Foxtrot Hot Stamper are back! It is INSANELY difficult to find good sound for this album. We’ve laid out hundreds of bucks on clear Brit originals over the years hoping to find that magical pressing, but could not manage to get the kind of sound we were hoping for. We the started bringing in every variety of pressing we could find and finally found a few copies that actually delivered. Here’s the best of them all — a White Hot Stamper with an A+++ side one, and A++ to A+++ side two and quiet vinyl. Genesis fans, the long wait is over — it’s time to hear this album sound right.  

This pressing has the best sound we’ve heard for this album, bar none. Having said that, this is probably not going to be the first record you reach for when friends ask you to put something on so they can hear how good your system is sounding. This recording is all over the place — parts of it sound amazing but other parts are always a bit murky. In that respect it has much in common with all the Genesis recordings from the era. Finding one with presence and clarity in the midrange is no mean feat. Here’s one that we think fans of the band should have no trouble recognizing as superior to whatever they may have heard. Demo disc sound? Not exactly. Better than other pressings? Without a doubt. (more…)

For Pete’s Sake, What’s Wrong With Blue? – Thoughts on “The Definitive Vinyl” Version

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In 2007 a customer took issue with our summary rejection of the new Blue.

Tom, 

I find it curious you are not carrying the new Joni Mitchell Blue vinyl issue. Even to the point of saying you can do better… for 25 bucks? After clicking on the LP cover and reading the comments from over the years it makes me wonder what your agenda really is. I paid $250 for a wonderful WLP and this Rhino issue smokes it, even as good as it is. I even have a Cd cut from this mastering session off the analog FLAT, not Dolby tapes and this vinyl even beats it…. of course just my opinion.

I have listened on $100,000 systems, all the way down to portable units, solid state and tube and there is no denying this is the definitive vinyl version….. and again for 25.00. What a bargain.

Maybe all you did was look at that Rhino sticker and think back to the Grateful Dead records they did a few years ago (horrible) and just assumed this wasn’t up to Better Records standards.

Thanks for reading. I enjoy your e mails and store….

Tom

Tom,

We don’t review records based on their labels or stickers. And of course we never assume anything about the sound of a record. We talk about this stuff all the time. Here’s a relevant quote:

My approach to reviewing records is pure skepticism: a record sounds good if it sounds good, regardless of how it was made, who made it, or why. I’ve heard lots of expensive so-called audiophile equipment do a pretty poor job of making music over the years, the owners of which had an armful of reasons for why the sound should be truly awe-inspiring. But it just wasn’t. Most fancy gold faceplates are nothing but lipstick on a pig in my opinion.

I heard Blue poorly reproduced at a friend’s house, and this is probably the best explanation for this letter writer’s inability to understand our position on Blue.

And paying $250 for a White Label Demo that apparently doesn’t sound good is the height of audiophile collector foolishness. That money should have gone for better equipment or room treatments or tweaks, something, anything, to make this guy’s stereo and room work better than they do.

Actually this brings up a good point. If I had to choose one record that separates the men from the boys, the stereos that really work from the phony, lifeless audiophile systems you might read about in the magazines or hear at an audio show, Blue would be a darn good choice.

The problem there is that you have to be one serious record collector to have a great copy of Blue. But good pressings are out there, if you can clean and play them properly. This is why we created the Blue Game. It can be done, and we can help you get there, but most of the work has to be done by you.

Naturally we are happy to do the shootouts for you and charge you the pretty penny the winners command, but for those of you who want to find out what’s wrong with the new Blue and don’t want to buy a Hot Stamper from us, there is a third way: Blue, The Game.

King Crimson – Red – Reviewed in 2009

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

This is a Minty British Polydor red label import LP. These British imports are consistently superior to their domestic counterparts. We do not even bother to pick up domestic King Crimson albums anymore; the sub-generation tapes they are made from cause them to be smeary, veiled and compressed. If there are good ones out there we sure haven’t heard them.

As for this copy, both sides are tubey magical and sweet, again, qualities sorely lacking in domestic pressings. Both sides are however a bit recessed compared to the best we’ve played. Side two is especially dynamic though; the sound really jumps in places. (more…)

Sinead O’Connor – I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got – Listening in Depth

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Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series with advice on what to listen for as you critically evaluate your copy of I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got.

This is widely considered one of the best albums of the ’90s, a brilliant and unique piece of work. I positively love this album. The emotion is every bit as naked and compelling as that found on Joni’s Blue, and I do not say that lightly. I know the power of Blue, and this album has that kind of power. This is some heavy heavy stuff. Hearing it sound right is a thrill I won’t soon forget.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Feel So Different
I Am Stretched on Your Grave

This track has some of the wildest instrumentation I’ve ever heard. The rhythm is provided by a looped sample of the beat from James Brown’s “Funky Drummer”, with Sinead’s reverb-laden vocals carrying the droning melody. At the apex of the track, some crazy-ass violins come in, making for a haunting celtic/hip-hop hybrid. I think there’s even some Persian in there. This one just knocks me out every time I hear it.

The average bad sounding pressing of side one just plain ruins this track. The sound will lack extension on the top and reek of blubbery bass. The hot copies have solid low end, lots of air around the vocals, and texture on the violins. The good copies let the song work its magic; the bad ones don’t. (more…)

Tchaikovsky / Concerto for Violin & Orchestra / Oistrakh – Not Too Big to Fail

More Tchaikovsky

More Concerto for Violin & Orchestra / Oistrakh

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Side two of this copy from our 2016 shootout provides a clear example of the effect known as the “The Violin That Ate Cincinatti.”

Yes, it may be oversized, but it’s so REAL and IMMEDIATE and harmonically correct in every way that we felt more than justified in ignoring the fact that the instrument could never sound in the concert hall the way it does here — unless you were actually playing it (and even then I doubt if it would be precisely the same sound — big, but surely quite different) (more…)

Wes Montgomery – California Dreaming – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

This White Hot Stamper Shootout Winner has the REAL Wes Montgomery/ Creed Taylor/ Rudy Van Gelder MAGIC in its grooves. You will not believe how big, rich and full-bodied this pressing is on side one! Since this is one of Wes’s best albums, hearing this side one was a THRILL for us and will no doubt be as big a thrill for you too.   

Beware any and all imitations (even the one I like somewhat, the Cisco version). They barely BEGIN to convey the qualities of the real master tape the way this pressing does. This White Hot Stamper exhibits huge amounts of ambience and spaciousnesss, with far more energy and the kind of “see into the studio” quality that only the real thing ever seems to have. 

Wall to Wall

Note especially how so much musical information is coming from the far sides of the soundfield. The Cisco reissue makes a mockery of that wall to wall sound, sucking it into the middle and flattening it into a single plane. Ugh.

To be fair — and I always am — the Cisco did beat and will beat the pants off of practically any copy you run across. There is a very simple explanation for this: Verve is probably the most poorly mastered label in the history of the world. No other label produced so many wonderful sounding recordings that were turned into lousy sounding LPs — I could list them for days. We rarely even pick up most Verves, having been burned so many times we just can’t face another badly mastered noisy LP. (more…)